Amazing Spaces’ George Clarke on Kiwi DIY and the power of tiny houses
Words: Lucy Corry
Amazing Spaces host George Clarke is in New Zealand to build a tiny house with Mitre 10. He weighs in on two innovative tiny homes recently featured on thisNZlife.
Small is beautiful. Just ask English architect-turned-TV-presenter George Clarke, who is currently in New Zealand filming Mitre 10’s Tiny House series for its Mitre 10 On Demand video channel.
“There’s no excuse for bad design,” he says cheerily down the line from Southland. “Yesterday I saw a couple of big houses that looked like they cost a fortune and they were really ugly.
“My heart just sinks when I see places like that. They stick out in the landscape and you can imagine the sort of people who live in them. They’re the sort of people who would say, ‘come inside and see how expensive my TV is’.”
George hosts the Mitre 10 On Demand video series, The Lock In
George, 42, first came to Aotearoa last year to film for his Amazing Spaces show. This time he’s been tiki-touring around with builder Stan Scott, returning to Auckland in time to see the completion of Mitre 10’s own tiny house.
Despite having been involved in grand projects with TV shows like Restoration Man and Amazing Spaces, George is a huge fan of the tiny house movement.
“I think there’s something quite powerful going on at the moment. People are reassessing life, they’re asking ‘do I really need a big house with six bedrooms and a triple garage? Why burden ourselves with a massive mortgage and all of that worry?’
“If you build smaller, you build cheaper and you can also save money by doing it yourself. A really lovely part of the tiny house movement is that going smaller can mean a better quality of life.”
“That’s an inspirational project, because they didn’t have to do it, they chose to,” George says.
“They’ve made a beautiful home. It looks very sympathetic to the landscape, which is not what you would expect from something made from shipping containers. I can just tell that it reflects the character and personality of the people who live there.”
He’s a big admirer of the Kiwi fondness for DIY – “I love that attitude of ‘let’s just build it and get it done’” – but has even more respect for Melanie and Ben Brookes, who are living completely off the grid in a teeny 20m2 home on Waiheke Island (NZ Lifestyle Block, December-January 2017) with their three children. The family, who have lived in the little gingerbread cottage since 2013, are building a 100m2 mudbrick house nearby.
“That’s very brave,” he says in awed tones. “When you’ve got kids they don’t get any smaller. But it’s lovely as well. They told their kids, ‘look, you’re going to have to be flexible about this, it won’t be forever’.
I’d like to revisit them in 10 years and see what happens. Perhaps the parents might move back to the tiny house, or the kids might.”
Back home in London, Clarke lives in a 120m2 four-bedroom, one bathroom house in Notting Hill.
“It’s a 1968 modernist house, a former council house, with a lovely garden studio that I designed. It’s very simple and minimal,” he says.
“In lots of ways it’s like going home to the council house I grew up in, where my parents still live in the North-East.
“It shows that home stays with you, it crafts who you are. Lots of architects can design flashy pieces of iconic architecture, but none of those buildings will ever be as important as a family home.”
BETTER BY DESIGN
Thinking of making some changes to the way you live? George has some sage advice:
*Design it right: “In any house, the design stage is the most important because that’s when you really get to make the space work. People have very different attitudes to the process, but I want to figure it all out to the last millimetre. Some people like to be 10 times more organic, but it can be very hard to build in space-saving ideas afterwards.”
* Get smart about money: “Be very realistic about your budget. Very few people seem to really think about the cost of their projects – they have the vision of what they want and they very rarely price it out properly.”
*Choose who you use: “If you can do things yourself, go for it. If not, take advice from experts and do it in an appropriate way. A small, quirky builder down the road might be more likely to bring it in on budget than a big contractor.”
*Declutter: “Having lots of stuff makes any space look smaller. Keep the essentials and get rid of everything else.”
*Think out of the box: “Integrated storage is really great. I’ve done projects where the entire floor has had a 60cm void so you can lift up sections and store things you don’t need very often.”
The Mitre 10 Tiny House build will be online at Mitre 10 On Demand in June. It will be Mitre 10’s second Tiny House series, with the first series launching online in April, where George Clarke meets a New Zealand family in Raglan who have chosen to build small to afford luxury.